Inspired by his passion for bringing diversity to children’s literature – a mission shared by his late father, acclaimed author Walter Dean Myers – author and artist Christopher Myers is launching a new imprint called Make Me a World with Random House Children’s Books. Barbara Marcus, president and publisher of RHCB, announced the partnership today; Jenny Brown, v-p and publisher of Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, will oversee the venture. An inaugural list of three titles will debut in 2018.
“It started with a concern, a care, a worry,” said Myers, recalling the genesis of the imprint. “It partially had to do with some op-ed pieces that my father and I wrote in 2014 and published in the New York Times about the need for stories to be told that had been neglected. No one will disagree that there is a need for diversity in children’s literature, and a need to respond to the changing demographics of our country and our world. But at the same time, as we look at the statistics, those books are not being published.”
Myers said that with Make Me a World he is trying to build a model for how to publish those much-needed books. “What does children’s literature of the future look like, and how do we make it happen today?” is a question he keeps in mind while working toward his goal. “Young people are increasingly faced with a broadening world and we need to provide our children with a framework to navigate it,” Myers said. “I want this imprint to build worlds for young people to grow up in. Each book is a world – and there are so many worlds that have yet to be created.”
Though Myers’s ideas about a new direction in children’s books had been percolating for a while, the concrete plan for an imprint arose from a meeting between Myers and Marcus in early 2015. “I had been an admirer of Chris’s through the years, and when those first editorials came out [in March 2014] they were so relevant and so important,” Marcus said. “Chris used such brilliance and care with his words, writing about children needing not only mirrors in children’s books, but a map.” A few months later, in July 2014, Walter Dean Myers died. “I attended a memorial service for Walter [with whom Marcus had worked during her previous tenure at Scholastic], and it was Chris’s choice to celebrate his father’s life with young talented artists, writers, singers, rappers. It was so amazing and so special. I thought, anything that he was doing, please, could I, and Random House, be a part of it. So I approached him.”
Myers was receptive to the idea working together. “We had some hard conversations, and she asked me, ‘What can we do about it?’ ” he said. “And that’s when I told her I wanted to try to build a model for what the future of kids’ books could be. This is a grand experiment.”
To achieve his vision, Myers said he is asking artist friends from various disciplines – film, theater, comics, science, architecture – to contribute to his imprint, encouraging them with “some handholding and some love” when they may not think they have a story to tell. “I will be acquiring each title, and curating the list,” Myers notes, emphasizing that his work will be “fairly hands-on,” and that the physical “book craft” is also key to the process. Asked if he might bring any of his own work to the imprint, he said, “If there is a moment that my voice or my talents would be most useful, I would do it. But I’m trying to bring in as many new voices to the business as possible.”
The first list will feature Child of the Universe, a picture book by astronomer Ray Jayawardhana; Mama Mable’s All-Gal Big Band by Annie Sieg, a look at the influence of female musicians in the evolution of jazz after WWII; and Walk Toward the Rising Sun, a memoir by activist Ger Duany, a former child soldier from South Sudan.
Myers’s drive to establish Make Me a World remains heavily influenced by his father. “He taught me so much,” Myers said. “But even he, a legend in this business at the end of his life, still had trouble publishing some of his ideas. There were some editors who wanted him to stay in his own lane so to speak, and write urban fiction. But with my friends, I want to give them the opportunity to make the book that will make their heart sing.”
According to Marcus, Brown and the Knopf team, along with RHCB creative director Martha Rago, will be working on Make Me a World titles with Myers, along with a corps of creative people he typically collaborates with on his own. Though the imprint launch is official today, word of mouth has been spreading for a while. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of stories that have already come to me before any kind of announcement,” Myers said.
But the number of submissions won’t change his philosophy about doing things right. “We want to take the requisite care and time in making a book,” he says. There is no set number of titles planned moving forward. “We want to make books that people will remember, that people will imitate. Each book is a gift, and we want to wrap it.”
Both Marcus and Myers are enthusiastic about the path ahead for Make Me a World. “We are looking for his reach to bring new voices into the industry,” Marcus said. “If anyone can do that, and reach more kids, I believe Chris can do it.” Myers echoed that upbeat note. “It’s super-exciting for me to have a creative endeavor that can grow as big and reach as far as my imagination can take me.”